So, if you were alive last week, which I'm assuming you were since you're reading this column, you probably asked yourself at least one Internet-related question: white and gold or black and blue? It was a question a lot of folks were asking last Thursday related to the color of some dress that was posted all over the Internet.
This obsession existed despite the fact that at just about the same time the dress was trending on Facebook, an avalanche buried a portion of the Paryan district of Panjshir province north of Kabul, Afghanistan; an active volcano in the Kuril Islands off the Russian Pacific Coast shot a plume of ash eight kilometers (five miles) into the sky; a llama and an alpaca escaped their captors and led authorities on a merry chase through parts of Arizona that was broadcast over the web; LeBron James missed two free throws leading to a loss against Houston; and finally, the FCC passed a historic measure to more strictly regulate the Internet in response to net neutrality. So, instead of focusing on those newsworthy topics, all the majority of folks could think about was the color of an $80 dress that showed up on a Tumblr page and went on to attract over 20 million views on Buzzfeed.
So, what does all of this have to do with the mortgage lending business? I'll get to that in a second. First, about this dress.
I was with the majority who saw gold and white, while others saw black and blue, which apparently says something about how our brains process colors. But my very first reaction had nothing to do with the color.
I remember thinking that unless the lady has just the right figure, those horizontal stripes are not going to be very flattering. What does that say about me? Well, it says that I was raised by four older sisters and have only a wife and daughter in my house, so my natural reaction is to parrot what I have heard my whole life about such things. As a guy, my other thought is that the dress is pretty slimming, and may look good in a pile on the floor of the owner, a thought that obviously my sisters and wife would not approve of.
Regardless of how you saw the dress, the whole incident says a lot about how we see our world, communicate with each other and ultimately what we need to do now in our industry. Here are some of the things I took away from this.
First lesson — People love simple, creative things. The only reason this silly "what color is it" question caught the attention of so many people is that they weren't asked to do very much. Share it, vote it up, comment on it. It was very easy for people to get involved and so they did it. In fact, this is much easier than one of last year’s crazy social media trends, which required the participant to dump cold water over their head. Maybe they will be doing that in New England this spring with all the snow melt. Anyhow, this "what color is it" social interaction was very easy for participants, so perhaps the lesson for mortgage bankers is to ask simple questions and make it easier for the consumer to engage with you.
The second lesson for the industry is how critical it is to go mobile. The majority of those who voted on the dress did so on mobile devices. Mobile has exploded on the consumer side and financial institutions are realizing that they have to make services available on these devices. Later this month, I'll be down in Orlando for the MBA's conference, Technology in Mortgage Banking, to talk about this very issue. If you're planning on being at MBA Tech, don't miss our session.
Another lesson is that graphics and pictures are powerful. They attract our attention and often make us engage and respond better to the content. In fact, when we conduct consumer satisfaction surveys on behalf of lenders, we encourage the lender to include the name and a picture of the top executive of the company. This personalizes the invitation and drives up response rates. Now, the questions we ask the consumer are much more important than "what color" but more consumers are encouraged to respond just with the inclusion of the photo.
Finally, the whole color debate is really a question of perception. People saw what they expected to see. Experts tell us that our brains are so sophisticated and can sense so many things that much of the processing work we do mentally is the brain deciding what not to notice. That is what produces a perspective of one color compared to another.
Perhaps there are perceptions you still have about the industry that need to be shaken up. Maybe it's a metric you've been using for years that no longer makes as much sense. For example, when asked how our businesses are doing, we invariably respond with what dollar volume was originated. This means that the dollars are always more important than the units, even though the units represent familyunits that have been helped, and are hopefully satisfied with the process.
Wouldn't it be better if we focused on how many customers we helped rather than how many dollars we originated? It's very powerful to know that you helped 500 families get a better loan last month, and 95% of them would recommend you to others. Isn't that better than saying "I did $100 million" to describe your business? I know our government regulators would say so. Fortunately, we have tools that make it easier for lenders to do this now. I suspect that the lenders that use them will be wearing the white hats and counting their gold, while those that don’t will end up black and blue.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.